Susan's Blog

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Reflection

There once was a girl who was born ugly. From the very start, everyone thought that word when they looked at her, and some even used it in her presence.. But what did it mean? No one could say, but everyone felt they knew. They’d heard it from others before, so that is how they knew what ugly was.

The one thing everyone knew was that ugly was bad. No one would ever want to be ugly.

In the case of the young girl, her face did not please. Her jawline wavered, not firm and straight. Her nose was graceless, long and bumpy. Her skin was mottled gray and bruised pink. Although she could speak, her words came out strange. She did not seem to understand what was being said. She was also clumsy. Ugly. From the start.

She learned that being ugly meant there was nothing that was just for you, nothing but what other people in their clay-like hearts felt like they could spare. The people around her believed that she should not get anything, because she didn’t deserve it. Her face, her body were the things that closed the door to having anything of her own.

As an ugly being she learned to become a benign white cloud, and to float around, unnoticed. It wasn’t that she could fly or swim, it was more that she simply did not show up in a group. Nor could anyone hear her. She learned also to stand very still, with her neck slightly bent, eyes on no one, eyes disappearing into her doughy face. This way she let everyone know that she knew she deserved her invisible, unnoticed place — although it was hardly a place. She occupied a disturbance in the air, but only in the way that a cloud might suddenly change shape with the breeze, meaning nothing. She dared not mean anything because she could not bear an even deeper dislike that might develop, from the sneering eagle faces that surrounded her.

The girl grew into a woman because her body could not help changing. She would have given anything to prevent this from happening because it meant that someone would notice her. And indeed, one day the girl wandered into the forest and there she met a man. He was tall and dark as the trees around her, and he smelled faintly of pine and cold air. She did not mean to see someone else and certainly would have gone the opposite direction, but it was too late. He did see her. He looked at her for a long time, his dark brown eyes stared, unflinching. Her gray skin flushed pink; she could not help it.

He looked her right in the eyes and she froze. And his spell was cast. She felt herself being chipped away, like an ice sculpture. Her arms whittled slender and straight, her lips and mouth cleared out, smoothed into the shape of an opening rose. Helpless, her insides turned to water under her thin sparkling icy skin. And she became beautiful.

The man’s eyes returned to their normal state, brown and hard as tree roots, but they would not look away from her. The appraising look on his face gave way to a pleased surprised that caressed her like loving hands. And because she had never experienced this sensation of fiery eyes on cool bare skin, she gave herself up to him. This is love, she told herself. This is love because it is powerful and transformative. This is love because I am no longer ugly.

She found, however, that it felt best to walk with his arms around her. Her legs were shapely but they could not move much. They hurt with each step. The man held her up and she closed her eyes to the pain, and at last she was able to leave the woods. When she came back to the village, there was a roar of excitement, a rush to look at her, and the handsome man by her side. They looked at her and they smiled their relief that they no longer had to feel her shameful ugliness.

The young woman basked in their soft new feelings towards her. She started to move among them with a new palpable presence, they made room for her, they allowed her to stay near them. They talked to her and she found she could speak to them. But her words were not her own, they came out fully formed with clever and witty phrases she herself did not understand. Yet she saw that they delighted those around her. She continued to experience hot and cold, pleasure and fear, and polar opposites, all the time. Her head was always strangely light, but her heart was constantly squeezed into a knot. For she knew she was paying a price for her new beauty: she lived in a constant state of fear that she would lose it.

The man would appear suddenly, but she never knew when or where. Sometimes he showed up at the foot of her bed, golden with sunrise. Sometimes he appeared in her dreams, and bore her away to strange and wondrous lands, holding her by the hands as they flew through the night skies.

He whispered that he would never go away, but at the same time, every time he turned his head for the smallest distraction — a bird in flight, a breeze carrying a flower petal, a maiden on her way to the market — her insides would freeze, buckle, and crack a little. For it was his attention alone that made her beautiful and she knew it was not her own. And once she had tasted it, she felt she could never go without it again.

Over time, the man became tired of her fearfulness — even though it was he who had created it. He grew bored and would make the girl sad, again and again, showing up in places where he should not be, and fading away from places where he had once lifted her to the heavens. And she still needed to have his eyes on her that way, for it was the only way to save her beauty. But now, every night and sometimes into the morning, she cried knowing that he was indeed leaving her. She was no longer enough for him. She was slipping back into non-existence.

Finally he stopped seeing her at all. Her silvery white beauty simply melted away and she went back into the gray of clouds. She was ugly again, uglier for knowing that the wonderful magic of his attention had disappeared. Uglier for knowing now what could be, but would be no longer. “Back,” she yelled, in her strange garbled way, meaning “come back!” Her heart twisted. The clever words and sweet voice had gone. The townspeople grimaced at the sound of her voice.

Because she could move on her own again, though her gait was clumsy, she took to wandering long distances away from the village, because now it was too hard to go back to invisibility and ugliness. People had seen her beautiful, after all, and they could not help looking at her now with scorn for no longer being cloaked in that beauty.

She would often find herself at a large pond in a meadow, so clean that in fact it was blue. She liked the pond because it would not reflect her image; its blue simply bounced sunlight into her eyes. But she found that this light soothed them. And with the sweet gentle afternoon light in her eyes came the slow realization that she had actually been burned from the man’s searing glance. The spell he had cast had altered her sight by its fire. She understood now that though she was ugly, her eyes no longer hurt. How sharply they had burned, but she had not noticed because of the intoxication of beauty. She had not felt pain and blindness in her eyes when she had been beautiful, but now she knew that it had been so; not only had her heart hurt all the time, but her eyes had been scoured by him so that he was all she could see.

And so she came back to the pond more and more frequently, for she could feel her eyes returning to what they once were, though they were plain dull gray. Something in her heart had unclenched, as if it were a separate being. She would lie on the ground, by the banks of the pond, and feel her eyes growing soft and her heart spreading gratefully in her chest.

One afternoon by the pond, she felt yet another change. Her head was no longer light the way it had been with the man. But instead of making her sad, she was relieved because after all, this was her very own head. It would never burn inside. It was no longer hot and floaty, carved from ice by the man. It was the head she was born with, the head she was meant to have. And she was glad. For she no longer had to be afraid that everything would be taken away. She no longer had to be afraid, or look longingly for the man. When she realized this, her heart expanded more, until it was outside of her, and was wrapped around her like loving arms.

Now she stood up, encircled by her arms, yet stunned by the sensation of having an external heart. She made her way to the pond, wishing to feel the water on her face. Wishing also to understand what was happening. But as she got to the edge, she saw that the blue color of the water had disappeared, that it was only a reflection of the sky that had turned it blue. And if the water was clear, wouldn’t it reflect her?

She realized that if she looked now, she would see herself.

Shivering from an emotion she could not name, she leaned forward and there she was, her face wavering in the soft ripples, her big body embraced by her heart, which was now as large as the rest of her. The sparkle of the water lit up her shapeless image, and she saw so clearly her mottled skin, her ungainly legs. The light from the water caressed her eyes, which were now entirely healed. She looked at herself and was able to say, “Me.”

And though she could hear that her voice sounded crinkly like a dead autumn leaf, she was filled with a soothing warmth. She was so happy, because all her pain was gone, all her fear vanished, because at last she was fully herself. She stood up and the air shaped itself around her. She was visible, lit up by the light, assured by her heart’s warm hug. She was free. She was herself. She was safe. She was.

And she understood then — with a relief that made her cry for joy — that in being, she was neither beautiful nor ugly, she was herself. She had no reason to fear, she had no reason to hurt. She could think her own thoughts (though barely speak them).

And she lived happily ever after.

 

2 comments

Wow. I am loving your stories. They remind me of some of the Greek myths or even some bible stories where you really need to sit and think about what exactly is going on. Usually people have wildly different interpretations.

— added by Susan on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 at 6:51 am

Thank you!!

— added by Susan Senator on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 at 9:00 am

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